Starring: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Rauno Juvonen
Director: Jalmari Helander
Running Time: 82 mins
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a Finnish film about a small group of people living in the remote mountains of Lapland who, after a major excavation project, discover the real meaning of Christmas.
If you ever feel that Christmas movies are too formulaic or predictable, then Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale has absolutely everything that you need. As well as working as a brilliant and darkly comic caper throughout, the film ingeniously plays on all your expectations and ideas about Christmas, taking what you think you know about the festive season and pulling the rug out from underneath, making for a thoroughly entertaining and equally refreshing watch right the way through.
Let’s start off, however, with the film’s sense of humour, which is exactly what makes its rather unorthodox premise work so well. As is typical from Nordic countries, Rare Exports is a film with sharp and perfectly pitched dark humour, the sort that proves genuinely funny throughout, while also creating a more striking and undeniably unsettling vibe around everything that goes on.
So, while the film takes glee in looking at the history of Christmas and playing with the real story of Santa Claus, it’s a double-edged sword, and whenever it takes a trope that you would normally think of as playful and fun, it twists it in such a way that it further deepens the unnerving and often rather disturbing nature of the film, to the point where you’re ultimately left decidedly creeped out by things that you would generally think to be so much more wonderful.
With that brilliant dark humour throughout, the film is a thoroughly entertaining watch, with some great laughs that are complemented by hilariously unsettling and satisfyingly bizarre takes on the festive genre, perfectly capturing what makes a great dark comedy, and giving a little bit of a breath of fresh air into the typical Christmas movie.
On top of that, however, Rare Exports is also a thoroughly exciting and engrossing action-horror-thriller. With that dark comedy plugging away throughout, things never descend to an overly gruesome or serious degree, but as much as the film is properly funny, it does a great job at crafting tension and excitement throughout that further unsettles you, as well as sets up for a brilliantly entertaining finale that you’ll never see coming.
Throughout, the story ingeniously uses the old, folkloric perception of Santa Claus and everything around him to create that unnerving atmosphere, but by mixing that with fast-paced and often even action-packed thrills and spills – especially towards the film’s final act – it’s a hugely entertaining watch, and one with a unique and strange enough premise that it proves far more memorable than most films in the genre.
Overall, I had a lot of fun with Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. Above all, it’s a brilliant dark comedy that uses a clever and unorthodox premise perfectly throughout, subverting all your expectations about Christmas and the festive genre with an exciting, weird and deeply unnerving take on the history of the festival, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.9.